Fiona Maazel’s ambitious second novel, “Woke Up Lonely,” is largely about the kind of loneliness experienced by the sort of person so fundamentally damaged and/or unappealing that he or she cannot help but alienate almost everyone in sight. Set at the turn of the millennium, it also evokes the disaffection felt by many on the Left when George W. Bush was elected for the second time. In spite of its dour subject matter, the book is not a total downer; bountiful jokes, a strong sense of absurdism, and the manic energy of Maazel’s prose prevent it. “Woke Up Lonely” is a comic and cerebral novel about one of life’s worst feelings, and a uniformly entertaining novel at that.
At its center is one Thurlow Dan, a guru under federal suspicion for amassing a stockpile of weapons and traveling to North Korea to meet with its leader, Kim Jong-il. When the novel opens in the early 2000s, the group Thurlow founded, the Helix, is attracting acolytes in record numbers thanks to the “galvanizing and inexhaustible resource” of American loneliness spurred by the divisive political climate. Thurlow thinks of the Helix as a therapeutic movement, but some — like the US government — believe it to be a dangerous cult.